Canada’s Pocket Desert

On March 13, 2014 · 3 Comments

Canada allegedly has exactly one lonely desert, or maybe none at all depending on who might have been consulted. Various names were coined for the anomaly known colloquially as "Canada’s Pocket Desert" including Okanagan, Osoyoos and Nk’mip. Whatever the designation, it’s located adjacent to the Town of Osoyoos in southern British Columbia, just north of the United States border.

Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada

Some of it might be marketing hype. Osoyoos registered a trademark for its motto, Canada’s Warmest Welcome® in 2008, stating via press release that it "was a play on the fact that Osoyoos has the country’s warmest climate and lake." It’s tourism website claimed "Canada’s only true desert." and noted "very little rain or snow (12 inches or 30.5 cm a year)."

Osoyoos Desert Centre to Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The area even included two distinct Desert Centres. The nonprofit Osoyoos Desert Society operated its Osoyoos Desert Centre on the western side.

The South Okanagan is home to one of the highest concentrations of rare and at-risk species in all of Canada. Through its conservation, restoration and education efforts, the Society strives to generate public knowledge, respect and active concern for these fragile and endangered ecosystems.

The Osoyoos Desert Society seemed to take a solidly consistent position that they were protecting a true desert.

Osoyoos by Claude Robillard on Flickr
via Creative Commons license

The Osoyoos Indian Band of the Okanagan Nation operated its Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre on the eastern side. This First Nations tribe hedged its bets about the status of the desert.

Expecting to see tall cactus and sand dunes? Although we share the same dry conditions as Phoenix Arizona, and many desert dwellers such as prickly-pear cactus, scorpions, rattlesnakes and Canyon Wrens live on our site, the jury is still out about whether we are a true desert. What is a desert— low rainfall, hot weather, cactus? Osoyoos does have years with precipitation below 10 inches but we often have rainy and snowy spells which support areas of lush vegetation.

Whether its a true desert, semi-desert, shrub-steppe, Upper Sonoran — all terms used to describe the area by various sources — a more official designation might be Osoyoos Arid Biotic Zone. Desert or not, it’s quite small, quite rare and quite endangered.

The semi-desert area in the southern Okanagan Valley is the region called the Osoyoos-Arid Biotic Area by Munro and Cowan (1947). It is a narrow strip of territory, about 38km (24 miles) long, running from Shaha Lake south to the international boundary. It lies generally below 335 m (1100 ft.) and is characterized climatically by mild winters, hot summers and very little precipitation (less than 20 cm (8 inches)).

I never concluded my thoughts about the controversy. It’s an interesting feature whether it’s an actual desert or not (and certainly more of a desert than England’s "Desert"). That’s when I spotted the nearby Anarchist Protected Area and lost interest.


Anarchist Protected Area? Did Canadian anarchists require their own protected area? As it turned out, no they did not. The Anarchist Protected Area was named for nearby Anarchist Mountain.

Anarchist Mountain, British Columbia, Canada

British Columbia’s GeoBC cited two sources in its origin notes and history for Anarchist Mountain, including "BC place name cards, or correspondence to/from BC’s Chief Geographer or BC Geographical Names Office":

Anarchist Mountain – July 2009 by Jamie Rothwell on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Anarchist Mountain and Sidley were both named after Richard G. Sidley, an early settler and first postmaster at Sidley (1895), who, because he showed some brilliance, was appointed Justice of the Peace and Customs Officer (dates not cited). He held, for his time, somewhat advanced political views; he was often called an anarchist, and this plateau became known locally as "the anarchist’s mountain". Local officialdom eventually relieved him of his posts.

I loved that little throwaway comment at the end — "Local officialdom eventually relieved him of his posts" — like the settlers tolerated him for awhile until he finally got on their nerves. At least he still had his mountain.


On February 27, 2014 · 9 Comments

What does one call a thousand geo-oddities? Ultimately I decided to use the metric prefix "Kilo," although kilogeooddity and kilooddity both looked clunky with all of those extra vowels. Ultimately I coined the phrase kiloanomaly, equating to units of a thousand objects combining to form singular anomalies. It almost sounded like a Hawaiian word. I liked it!

There were numerous examples of kiloanomalies. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.

Thousand Oaks

Thousand Oaks, California, USA

The City of Thousand Oaks in California was probably the most well-known urban forest of a thousand oaks that I uncovered, with over 125 thousand residents. There were plenty of others of the same name too, even in California (neighborhoods in Berkeley and San Jose at the very least). I then found Thousand Oaks in Florida, Missouri, and Texas, and a Thousand Oaks golf course in Michigan.

That’s a lot of acorns!

Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands, USA and Canada

I noted in Just as Enigmatic that the area known as the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United States didn’t actually have a thousand islands. Rather, those early explorers must have had a sense of modesty because there were actually 1,864 islands once they were all tallied.

What about Thousand Island (without an "s" after Island) salad dressing? Logically enough, "According to The Oxford Companion of Food and Drink, ‘the name presumably comes from the Thousand Islands between the United States and Canada in the St. Lawrence River.’"

Valley of a Thousand Falls

I learned of a Valley of a Thousand Falls in Mount Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, Canada. It’s the area between two small bodies of water, Berg Lake and Kinney Lake, on the map displayed above.

What do a thousand falls look like? I found a short YouTube video that provided a nice preview.

The valley can be accessed from the Berg Lake Trail:

… a world-renowned backcountry hiking trail. Gaining just under 800 metres in 23 kilometres, the trail traverses three biogeoclimatic zones. This trail takes hikers to some of the best scenery in the province. Beyond Kinney Lake, the trail enters the Valley of a Thousand Falls. Fed by the massive Mist, Berg and Robson glaciers, visitors often see huge sections of ice break off or “calve” into the blue/green, silt-laden waters of Berg Lake.

Biogeoclimatic is a great word that I need to add to my vocabulary although I still like kiloanomaly more.

Valley of a Thousand Hills

Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa

The second valley with a thousands objects I discovered online was the Valley of a Thousand Hills in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I wanted to use a better map. Unfortunately, I found it hideously difficult to find a Terrain View option on the new Google Maps and apparently it’s impossible to embed an object in that mode. I’ll provide a link though: (map).

The Valley of a Thousand Hills is a major tourism destination.

The breathtaking Valley of a Thousand Hills is an exciting component of Durban and South Africa’s province of KwaZulu-Natal – the Kingdom of the Zulu… an hour’s drive from the centre of Durban. The area is named after the thousands of hills which tumble down to the mighty Umgeni River, which flows from the distant Drakensberg Mountains to the warm inviting Indian Ocean.

It’s centered on the confluence of the Umgeni and Msunduzi (Duzi) Rivers, halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg

Thousand Ships Bay

Thousand Ships Bay, Solomon Islands

I found very little on Thousand Ships Bay in the Solomon Islands. It’s located "on the south coast of Santa Isabel Island… between San Jorge Island and Santa Isabel Island." The story goes — and who knows if it’s true — that the label came from "Spanish explorer Mendaña who named the location ‘Thousand Ship Bay’ [because he] believed a thousand ships could fit into the bay." Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira was indeed the first European to see the Solomon Islands in 1568. He named a lot of its individual islands so maybe the story had a grain of truth. However, the explanation seemed pretty lame even if true.

Many centuries later,Thousand Ships Bay was "occasionally used by the Japanese as a seaplane base or temporary ship anchorage from May to August 1942."

Thousand Circles

A hearty thank you to everyone who read all the way to the end of this post. The very first Twelve Mile Circle entry appeared on November 6, 2007. This is article number 1,000. I hope I’m still motivated to write when it’s time to feature The Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll

On February 23, 2014 · 1 Comments

The search engine query landed with an explosion on Twelve Mile Circle, hoping to uncover the ultimate in unlikely conspiracy theories, "Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll." The article you are reading right now was the first time that Mr. Coleman ever appeared in these pages as far as I could remember, and as confirmed by a quick search of every phrase that’s ever been published on this domain. I may never know why or how the mysterious forces of the Intertubes thought that 12MC might provide a solution. I can only thank whatever happy sparks of coincidence delivered this outlandish premise to my doorstep for my personal amusement.

I did know one thing: I wanted to cement the status of 12MC as the top of the list should anyone ever again drop Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll into a search engine.

The Grassy Knoll, Dallas, Texas, USA

The primary concern with this supposition, as I saw it, was the very simple fact that Gary Coleman was born in 1968. The John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas, Texas — and the possibility of additional shooter(s) on the grassy knoll — happened in 1963. And yes, I realized that the query was more than likely posted by someone searching for the most ridiculous conspiracy theory imaginable, probably out of simple boredom just to see if anyone had ever made the claim before. That didn’t make it any less awesome. Maybe that made it more awesome. Would it even be possible to imagine something more outlandish?

It had been a long, tragic ride for Gary Coleman as he nosedived from his childhood starring role in Diff’rent Strokes all the way down to Midgets Vs. Mascots (also staring Ron Jeremy… I don’t even want to know) not long before his untimely death in 2010. I have visited the Grassy Knoll and unless Mr. Coleman somehow mastered interdimensional time travel, I’d say it would be fairly safe to assume that he didn’t play a role. Still, "Gary Coleman on the Grassy Knoll" remained my favorite 12MC query ever.


The Grassy Knoll at Dealey Plaza

While we’re on the topic, my "Grassy Knoll at Dealey Plaza" photograph continues to hold the record for being the most frequently stolen image on Twelve Mile Circle. It got so bad after awhile that I finally had to add that little tag-line at the bottom of the graphic to keep potential copyright violators at bay. That seemed to work.

Grassy Knoll Dr., Romeoville, Illinois, USA

it surprised me to find quite an abundance of roads in the United States named Grassy Knoll given the emotionally-charged nature of the phrase. Perhaps some of them predated 1963 although I didn’t know what to make of the others. A few examples included:

  • Grassy Knoll Way, Elk Grove, California (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Drive, Tavares, Florida (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Drive, South Bend, Indiana (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Drive, Romeoville, Illinois (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Circle, Shreveport, Louisiana (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Terrace, Germantown, Maryland (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Street, Las Vegas, Nevada (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Lane, Raleigh, North Carolina (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Road, Gaffney, South Carolina (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Lane, La Marque, Texas (map)
  • Grassy Knoll Court, Woodbridge, Virginia (map)

I provided only one example per state, otherwise I’d probably still be recording and posting them. Most of these instances appeared in neighborhoods with bucolic themes, allowing Grassy Knoll to slip-in unnoticed within prevailing street names and norms. Some occurrences, since we’re conspiracy minded at the moment, might have included subtly hidden references to the Kennedy assassination. Notably,

Some say… a Nixon Connection?

  • In Raleigh, North Carolina, Grassy Knoll Lane fell close to Daingerfield Drive. One could certainly characterize the grassy knoll as a "danger field."
  • In Tavares, Florida, a housing development included Grassy Knoll Drive and Waters Gate Drive. Some say (notice how I slipped-in "some say" the favored expression of baseless claims) that Richard Nixon was involved in the Kennedy assassination and subsequent coverup. Nixon, of course, was brought down by the Watergate scandal.
  • In Woodbridge, Virginia, Grassy Knoll Court bordered on Slippery Elm Court. President Kennedy was riding down Elm Street in front of the Grassy Knoll when he was shot!

.. or they could have been completely coincidental. However, when has that ever stopped anyone from posting a reckless statement on the Internet? Never?

Rest in Peace, Mr. Coleman.

Completely Unrelated

Loyal reader Glenn noted that Napoleon and Wellington met at Waterloo east of Kansas City, Missouri.

(A) Napoleon, (B) Waterloo, and (C) Wellington, in Missouri

Famously, Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington met in battle at Waterloo, south of Brussels, Belgium in 1815. Now they continue to do so into perpetuity in Missouri. Glenn couldn’t find definitive evidence to prove that Waterloo, Missouri was named intentionally to fit the theme, however it seemed too remarkable to be completely coincidental.

Is anyone aware of other contiguous towns named for a battle and its opposing combatants?

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